On the run from Fae slavers, the best chance of survival is to submit to the Immortal Sorting.
I’ll be claimed by an Orc in exchange for protection. The price? A life of servitude.
But Commander Uther Bachbracht, fearsome warrior with a hidden tenderness only for me, wants more than a concubine; I’m the woman he chooses to be his wife.
My lies may jeopardize our future, but I have no choice but to trust his honor, no chance to rest before enemies find me.
Either I’ll live by my Orc blade, or die by it, and the Commander is willing to kill to protect what he has claimed.
ORC BOUGHT is a standalone steamy orc monster fantasy romance, for readers who like strong, protective, cinnamon roll heroes, bride auctions, pregnancy, post-apocalyptic alternate earth settings, magic and adventure, and morally gray worlds. Features a pragmatic but vulnerable heroine over thirty-five, a diverse cast, and some potentially sensitive content.
The scent of roasting meat wakes my stomach, which attempts a pathetic gurgle.
It stopped growling two days ago; there hadn’t been time to hunt during our flight up the coast. That, along with the lack of hunger pains and my lightheadedness as I carry a 6-year-old on my back, is enough warning I’m almost at the end of my tether.
Two weeks spent running a few miles ahead of our pursuers, avoiding the broken remnants of a highway raiders now use as bait for stupid travelers.
I kept the road in distant sight to guide us to the Sorting, but remained in the forest, chancing its animals and monsters until we arrived here.
“Watch it,” someone snarls.
“Sorry,” I mutter after bumping into them, struggling to remain on my feet, my back bending a little more under the weight of my burden.
Here is a grim stadium nearly re-taken by the forest, the shell of a once cement parking lot choked with plant life and now walked by hundreds of immortals who aren’t native to my planet.
Fae, Orcs, Gargoyles—their mixed species spawn, and us Humans, the originals. Every variation reproductively possible, as well as the twisted radiation and dark magic infested monsters lurking deep in the forests, unwilling to attack so many warriors in one place.
The fairgrounds teem with magic, everyone bristles with weapons, and here I am alone with a child, throwing our lot in with the sort who’d as soon eat us as save us.
But turning back isn’t an option.
Elif is light. Too light. She also stopped whining about hunger days ago, and that’s a mixed blessing.
On one hand, the complaints frazzled my broken nerves, on the other, complaints are proof of life. If not for the faint rise and fall of her thin chest against my back, I’d worry—more.
There isn’t much point in worry right now though. I’ve done everything I can, taking the only risk available to me to protect her.
We’ll both wind up dead, but at least I’ll have tried.
A pulse of dizziness blackens my vision for a second and I stumble again.
Hands wrap around my upper arms, steadying me, and when I blink away the darkness I glance up, freeze, and avert my gaze, aware of him trying to capture it.
Never stare Fae in the eyes. It’s a challenge, or a declaration of either power or intimacy, and if you don’t have the strength to back either up, then you’re begging for a slit throat. Or worse. Because death is the easy option when dealing with an angry immortal mage.
“Do you require assistance, girl?” the Fae male asks, quiet, like a soft voice will lull me. He must be used to stupid City girls.
Out of the corner of my eye I see him give me a long, slow look, a glint of interest in his gaze.
My muscles tense, pre-fight nausea rising in my throat as my body goes where my mind leads. I throttle back the response; immortals can sense rising aggression and they’ll meet it, then up the ante.
I’m not bad to look at even filthy, with my long dark braid a mat at this point. I got enough fat stores that cling to me even though Elif was weaned three years ago. Under the fat is muscle tone as good as it can be with a lack of nutrients. I’m hoping my taller, broader physique will attract an Orc, who like their women and laborers hardy.
This Fae male is one of many in the cold-eyed crowd I’ve avoided after entering the fairgrounds for the Spring Sorting.
Any of them could be the one Hartland sold our daughter to. Which means any of them could be the one who will kill me, cause that’s the only way I’m giving her up.
“Well?” He repeats his question, still patient, eyes still on my body—then my face. I realize it’s taking me too long to respond.
“No, thanks,” I say in a low, firm tone, pulling away slowly.
Not fast enough to insult his offer. They’re touchy like that, especially the men, who’re in denial that their species’ bad reputation is their own damn fault. Bet they couldn’t get away with that shit on their damn ship.
He touches my braid. “Are you here for the Sorting?”
Another glimpse of calm green eyes is enough to increase the chill biting through my thin, worn clothing.
“Yeah,” I say, “and I need to get in line. Excuse me.”
My gaze still averted, I drag us away, the back of my neck prickling until I disappear into the milling crowd, Elif still sleeping. I don’t relax until the crowd conceals us, and that’s probably still too soon.
Outside of one of the few remaining functional major Cities, a Sorting is the only place where you’ll see all the species mingled. Immortals are as picky as Humans when it comes to fucking, which means they ain’t. It’s why most of the contracts to claim a Human servant include sexual service, and breeding.
It doesn’t take long to find the line leading to the entrance to the old tournament field; I head toward it. It only wraps around the stadium once, and the aroma of cooking food from the vendors posted in the merchant section of the grounds is torture.
In front of the old, rusted gates is a long, battered table at which sits a dozen minor bureaucrats. I eye them with envy; the color in their rounded cheeks, the casual calorie fueled energy of their motions—even if their eyes are bored—the lack of stains or patches on machine sewn clothing.
But if I’m accepted through this initial screening process, Elif and I will be fed.
Elif stirs on my back. “Mommy, I smell meat.”
“Shh. Not long now.”
My mouth can’t water, but my mind waters for me. Even if death isn’t hard on our heels, and not just death from starvation, the one day of hot meals is enough of an incentive to apply for this Sorting.
A light drizzle starts as I stand in line, clouds drifting over the anemic sun, but no one complains. It’s the Pasifik Northwest, it’s always drizzling and we’re thankful enough planet Gaithea still gets rain in some areas.
My skin crawls despite the shower ‘cause I feel like a sitting fowl, but I remind myself that Elif and I look much the same as any unwashed, underfed, hard-eyed Human.
Damn the immortals and their dreadnought. They should have stayed in their own hellsdamn galaxy, not crashed on a planet in ours.
“Name,” the bureaucrat demands when it’s my turn.
“Defne Yildiz,” I say, matching his tone.
I might be a Human girl from an outland settlement scratching out a living, I might be ignorant, but I’m not stupid. I’m damn near forty years old, ten whole years past adolescence which means I should get points for surviving, especially childbirth, and I won’t be talked to like—
Who the hells am I kidding. I’ll let them talk to me any way they want if they pass me into the Sorting.
He peers at my shoulder. “The child?”
I try not to bristle, shifting Elif on my screaming back. Don’t piss off the people you want to give you things.
“My daughter. Elif Yildiz. She’s not an individual applicant.”
He busies himself scrawling out letters on the paper. Maybe if I’m selected, my new master will teach me to read and write. I’ve heard that all Orcs are educated; reading, writing, math beyond counting fingers and toes. Somehow in the last hundred years in our broken settlements, Humans have lost the train of formal education.
A half-Gargoyle female passes the Human bureaucrat a device. I stare at it, my eyes widening. That device is the reason for both the Fae and Orc guards surrounding this table, and the Gargoyles patrolling high in the air above. There are six of these devices in the world, and they only come out during the Sorting.
I hold out my finger and he jabs it. My blood wells, sucked into the device which lights up in tiny bursts of blue dots. I watch, fascinated.
More letters scroll across its surface and he grunts, scratching the charcoal against the paper some more.
“Healthy Human female, malnourished, mother of one child. Fertile, acceptable muscle tone, dental health above average. Estimated life expectancy, one hundred eighty years without intervention.”
He rattles off a series of facts, about my health I guess. Which makes sense because of what we’re being screened for. Though it had been our planet, the immortals rule now.
The Orc warriors want healthy, strong laborers for their homesteads.
The Fae Lords want Humans who’d absorbed magic into their DNA and can crossbreed to maintain their aristocratic bloodlines—what nobles were doing on that hellsdamn dreadnought, I don’t know.
The Gargoyle scientists and mystics want intelligence and ingenuity to help fuel their remote mountain civilization building.
Their dreadnought can’t be salvaged, and whatever anomaly that sent them here in the first place won’t happen again, so no rescue. They’re stuck here with us, and it took a century of war between the crash survivors to figure their shit out and turn their attention to reordering Humans the way they wanted.
“Accepted.” The bureaucrat applies wax at the end of the paper. “Do you want to submit to a battery of intelligence tests?”
I don’t like to waste my time—I’d fail. “No.”
“Do you want to submit to a magical exam?”
I’m scanning the area, my foot tapping with impatience as more and more ants crawl up my skin, biting. Almost through the damn gates and it feels like he’s stalling.
I jerk my attention back to him. “What?”
“The magic tests. Do you want to take the magic tests to qualify you for rank among the Fae?”
What the. . .hells fecking— “No.”
His gaze flicks up at me. “If you do not submit to the intelligence tests or the magical exams, then you are likely to only attract an Orc owner. The Fae want—”
I hate when they think I’m dumb. “I know, sir. Thank you. That’s what I want. An Orc.”
He pauses, then shrugs. No skin off his back. Just pass me through already, hells.
He runs through a series of disclaimers, informing me what rights I’m giving up if I proceed. My heart rate increases when he gets to the part that my daughter will no longer belong to me, though it’d be illegal to separate us.
But with Hartland on our tail, trying to kill me and take her to be sold into slavery, what option is there? At least the Orcs don’t sexually abuse their servants. As long as you’re healthy and strong and you work hard, they feed you, shelter you, clothe you, and they don’t beat you either.
Both the Gargoyles and the Fae are known to keep unwilling concubines, and they aren’t particular about age either, particularly if the concubine proves to have magic.
No, I’d rather work my fingers to the bone to avoid that fate.
. . .or being eaten by Humans. Which, considering the scarcity of food the further Southwest you get, I can’t blame them. But that don’t mean I want to be eaten.
“Put your thumbprint here,” he concludes when I agree, then hands me a thin leather cord with six green beads on it to put around my neck. “Proceed into the stadium. You will be fed and assigned a fire. There is zero tolerance for fighting, theft, or sexual assault. The sentence for theft or sexual assault is death.”
“Can I defend myself with lethal force?” Cool iron rests against my back, under my shirt.
“You may, but if it is determined you are the instigator of the fight, you will be executed, and your daughter confiscated. There are guards. Avail yourself of their protection if need be.” For the first time his brisk tone softens. “Keep your head down and the child quiet. Your data is good, you’ll find an owner.” He nods to my necklace. “The number of beads tell them your value, so don’t lose it. Green means you’re wanting an Orc.”
I glance down. “Is six good?”
“It’s not the worst.”
I exhale, nod and tred around the long table and through the iron gates.
Just a few more steps and I can sit down.
Just a few more hours, and maybe we’ll be safe.
* * *
They really do feed us.
The accommodations ain’t fancy, but I decide not to complain to management.
Elif lifts her head, woken again by the smell of food since she doesn’t give a damn about the noise, and I let her slide down. She leans against my side.
“Eat now, Mommy?”
Her soft voice is a dagger in my gut and it takes me a minute to respond in a normal tone. Last thing she needs is to hear my pain and fear.
But, hells, it’s getting harder to hide. If I’m not selected, I don’t know what the hells I’m gonna do. Maybe slit our throats. It would be gentler.
“Yeah, baby. In a few more minutes, okay? Remember to be small and quiet.”
I’d been resigned to sharing my portion with Elif, but at one of the long metal tables set up inside the stadium and laden with food, they hand me a full bowl of stew for her too—and bread.
Bread, with yeast. Old yeast because it’s still mostly flat, but I know that scent. I smelled it in Seanna City before.
My stomach growls again, more of a pitiful, hopeful whine.
My eyes prickle.
Still not enough saliva in my mouth for watering, but they give us metal cups and direct us to where the water is being rationed as well.
The Orc female in charge of dosing out the water—I eye her biceps, her dark braids and beaded vest over an impressive bust—is probably in charge of knocking heads together too. She clucks her tongue when she sees Elif. I notice there aren’t many children in the stadium.
“Poor mite. Ya both dehydrated. No worries though, dearie. If ya get a master, they’ll fatten ya both up.”
Since she took the time to stop and talk to me like I’m a person, and she’s friendly enough, I hesitate. “I was hoping to attract an Orc master. Any tips?”
She purses her lips. They’re a darker green than her skin, her ivory tusks curved delicately over her upper lip. She’s beautiful, cheeks bright with health, and I’m envious. She leans her curved hip on the metal water barrel.
“This your only younglin’?”
“You survived the birth.” Approval in her voice. “Well, Orcs prize strength, courage, and hard work. Ya want an Orc, when they come through pick one with dirt under his nails. A homesteader is ya best bet. Let ‘im know ya enjoys a hard day’s labor with no complaint, and are willing to give a lil more at the end of the night, ya know what I mean?”
“I know what you mean.”
Just because the Orcs don’t rape Humans doesn’t mean they don’t sleep with them.
She must understand the expression on my face. “That ya’ve borne one child and you’re both still healthy is a plus. You’re still young too.”
“Thank you for the information.”
“Come back in the evening, dearie. Ya get two meals a day and sixteen ounces of water each.”
The promise of eating soon gives Elif enough energy to walk on her own to our assigned fire, where a group of about twenty people huddle around the heat, some talking, some sleeping or pretending to sleep, others eating.
We eye each other, wary but hopeful. I keep my gaze on the men, but the women are as dangerous. A woman might not rape you as easily, but if she’s hungry enough, she’ll slit your throat and roast you for supper.
Elif is tender meat.
Lucky for my daughter, I ain’t.